Hindu View on Homosexuality

Hindu Scriptures do not frankly speak of homosexuality; however, there are enough references on same sex union
Hindu Scriptures do not frankly speak of homosexuality; however, there are enough references on same sex union | Source

In Hinduism, carnal pleasure, called Kama in Sanskrit, is one of the four major duties assigned for human beings. Other three are dharma (righteous actions), artha (wealth) and mokshya (liberation). Hindu theologies do not accept sex outside the context of marriage and adultery is abhorred. Hinduism emphasize on life of celibacy, and gives techniques to abstain from sex until marriage. However, Hinduism has liberal attitude towards sex. Hindu Canon consist numerous texts on how to enjoy sensual pleasure to fullest.

Many Hindus consider homosexuality a taboo because the scriptures do not specifically mention homosexuality, and the purpose of sex, within the concept of marriage, is for sustaining the genealogy and human race, and enjoying the bliss of copulation.

The main thesis of Hinduism is reincarnation of soul. Soul is an invisible and eternal entity, which lives in human beings, as well as animals, and does not die when human beings die. As long as the soul (Atma in Sanskrit) does not unite with the Supreme Soul (God, Parmatma in Sanskrit) and becomes liberated, it enters into another body and continues to exist. Hindu philosophy says human soul does not have a gender, and when it reincarnates, it may take a birth in a man, a woman, or an animal.

The Concept of Third Gender in Hinduism

Even though there is no specific mention of homosexuality, Hinduism recognizes people showing the signs of both sexes. The terminology used for such person is tritiya prakriti, literally third nature. The third gender is the common term for human being that is between a man and woman.

India, the country with highest Hindu population in the world, does not officially recognize the third gender, except in the Indian State of Tamil Nadu. In India, the followers of Radha-Krishna worshiping cult believe that everyone on earth is a woman and only Lord Krishna is a man. Based on their belief, the male devotes dress as a woman.

Nepal, the country with world’s second largest Hindu population, officially recognizes the third gender. Nepali definition of third gender includes lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender.

In India and Nepal, transgender people, commonly called Hijra, identify themselves as a third gender. In some Hijras community, the members go through ritual castration to look more like woman. The Hindus in India and Nepal do not consider a man who copulates with a Hijra a gay.

Ardhanarishwar, Shiva and Parvati in Unison; Contemporary depiction photographed by Vinaya
Ardhanarishwar, Shiva and Parvati in Unison; Contemporary depiction photographed by Vinaya

Ardhanarishwar: The Third Gender Deity

Hindu religion also has a deity in third gender form. He/she is called Ardhanarishwar, literally half-male and half-female God. Ardhanarishwar, the hermaphrodite deity in Hinduism, has left part as a female and right part as a male. Ardhanarishwor is an androgynous form of Lord Shiva and his consort Parvati. Ardhanarishwar is believed to be neither Shiva nor Parvati, but the God and Goddess in unison.

Yellamma: The Deity of the Fallen

Yellamma, the deity of the fallen, is a local deity in the Indian State of Tamil Nadu, worshiped by the third genders. Yellamma is believed be the transgender form of Arjuna, one of the heroes in the Hindu Epic Mahabharata. In his third gender form, Arjuna is called Brihanla, and Yellamma is a local name for Brihanla. The Temple of Yellamma is dedicated to third gender form of Arjuna. As Brihanla, Arjuna spent his time teaching dance and music, therefore most of the third genders in India earn their living by dancing and singing.

Homosexual Iconography in Hinduism

There is an overwhelming presence of homosexual iconography in Hinduism. Hindu art in sculptures, carvings, and paintings represent copulation between the same sexes. Since Hindu religion and philosophy treats sexuality as pleasure and fertility, erotic carvings are highly revered. Erotic sculptures, carvings and paintings are significant aspect of Hindu Temples. In Kama Sutra, the Hindu book on sexuality, homosexuality is considered permissible in some communities and forbidden in others.

The Third Gender in Hinduism Scriptures

The Hindu scriptures give enough references of third gender i.e. alternate sexual identity. In the Hindu Epic Mahabharata, which is designated as the gist of Hindu religion and philosophy, there are there are two major third-gender characters: Shikhandi and Brihanla.

Shikhandi, who was born as a transgender in a royal family of Panchal during the Mahabharata era, is mentioned both as a man and as a woman. In his/her previous life form, Shikhandi was a princess named Amba, who wanted to revenge Bhisma because he destroyed her marriage. Amba worshiped Lord Shiva and asked him to bless her with the power to kill Bhisma. Lord Shiva said, when she would be born as Shikhandi in another life form, she will be able to kill Bhisma. With the help of Shikhandi, Arjuna, one of the heroes of the Mahabharata, was able to kill Bhisma.

Arjuna, too, had to live as a transgender for a year because a nymph called Urvasi cursed him. According to the Hindu mythology, Arjuna went to live with his father Indra, the Lord of Heaven, for some time. In the Heaven, Urvasi fell for Arjuna and asked him to satisfy her desire. Arjuna flatly denied saying Urvasi is like a mother figure for him because eons ago she had been a consort of his ancestor. Urvasi, in a bout of anger, cursed Arjuna that his potency will collapse. When Indra heard about the curse, he said Arjuna will live only one year as transgender, which will be very helpful to him. When Arjuna, along with his four brothers and wife, was hiding from his arch enemy Duryodhana, he changed into a transgender form. Arjuna, as a transgender, was called Brihanla. According to the Mahabharata, Arjuna did not cross dress as a woman but was biologically changed into transgender

Hindu Scriptures Purna also mentions about alternate genders. According to Mastya Purana, Ill, also called Illa, was a son of King Manu. However, he changed into a woman because of a curse from Goddess Parvati. Every month his gender changed, as a man he was called Ill and as a woman she was called Illa.

Vishnu and Shiva in a combined form, as "Hari-hara," a print from the 1930's
Vishnu and Shiva in a combined form, as "Hari-hara," a print from the 1930's | Source

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Homosexuality in Hinduism

According to Mastya Purana and Vayu Purana, Lord Vishnu took a form of Enchantress Mohini to trick the demons. However, when Lord Shiva saw Vishnu as Mohini, he was instantly in love. The union between the Gods manifested a child. This child of Vishnu and Shiva is worshiped as Lord Ayyappa. The Temple of Sabarimala in the Indian State of Kerala is dedicated to the son of Vishnu and Shiva popularly called Hari-Hara-Putra.

Hari is one of the names of Vishnu and Hara is one of the names of Shiva. In Hindu worshiping, when Vishnu and Shiva are worshiped together, they are called Hari-Hara. The prayers dedicated to Hari-Hara describe Hari (Vishnu) and Hara (Shiva) as a male couple. Some of the depictions of Hari-Hara show the deity in blended form and in some portrayals they are standing close.

The Hindu Epic Ramayana also has a story about homosexuality. Once there was a king named Dilip, he had two wives, but he died without leaving an heir. One day Lord Shiva appeared in the dream of King’s widows and said they will have a child if they made love together. The queens made love and one day one of the queens gave birth to a child. The child grew to become a great King Bhagiratha, who brought River Ganges from the heaven to the earth.

The Vedas are the most authoritative Hindu Scriptures. In the Vedas, there are twin Gods called Ashwini and Kumar. Hindu theologies always refer Ashwini-Kumar as a couple. Ashwini and Kumar are never mentioned separately, they are seen together even when go to bed a woman.

Homosexuality in Contemporary Hindu Societies

Since there is no specific reference in Hindu Canon criminalizing or decriminalizing homosexuality, proponents and opponents of homosexuality put forward their arguments based on their own interpretation of theologies.

When Fire, a film based on lesbian relation, was released in India in 1996, it caused nationwide protest. The theaters had to stop screening of the film because the demonstrations went violent. However, the BJP, the Hindu Party, which was in the government at the time, rejected a plea to ban the movie.

© 2013 Vinaya Ghimire

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25 comments

Srushti Govilkar 15 months ago

There seems to be a factual error in the article. You have written that Ramayana is the epic in which two queens make love and conceive. However, the incident is not from Ramayana, but from Krittivasi Ramayana.


suzettenaples 20 months ago

Error: one should be able to love whomever one wants to is how it should read. I am not homosexual! Sorry about that!


suzettenaples 20 months ago

This is a fascinating read, Vinyaya. I agree with you that homosexuality prevents the continuation of society. But, I also believe one shomd be able too love whomever I wants to without discrimination. What happens in the bedroom is private. Hindu and Sikh take on this is so interesting and thank you for writing this. I am thrilled for you that a publication picked this up. Well done and congratulations


radhapriestess profile image

radhapriestess 20 months ago from Minneapolis, MN

Well written piece on the topic. I think it's good that it's not mentioned in the texts. Some people are just born this way. I think of people I know who are this way most say they knew when they were very young. Perhaps these individuals in previous lives were intolerant of gays and lesbians, so in this life they had to live as one to learn compassion. One of my family members, who is male, never liked to date women and always had just male friends. He was not a priest. I do think he always was this way, so from my own experience I think there are reasons a person is born this way. I have a number of gay & lesbian creative friends who are quite spiritual people. A gay woman rented to me when I was down and out. I have a good opinion of the ones I know. It is interesting to see some very interesting stories which you shared on the topic. I learned some things from your post.


cclitgirl profile image

cclitgirl 20 months ago from Western NC

Lots of votes here! Great article and so full of information. Thank you for the insights and sharing what you know. Cheers!


manatita44 profile image

manatita44 2 years ago from london

Very interesting Hub.


brakel2 profile image

brakel2 2 years ago from Oklahoma City, Oklahoma

The different countries have different views on this issue which is understandable. Once again, you have given readers a good synopsis of these views. Your knowledge of many subjects shows in your hubs. Thanks for sharing this subject. I am tolerant of all people with sexual differences. Keep up the good work. Blessings. Audrey


Vinaya Ghimire profile image

Vinaya Ghimire 3 years ago from Nepal Author

LK More

Teaches

Tanks for reading and taking time to comment. Cheers


LKMore01 profile image

LKMore01 3 years ago

Well done and insightful, Vinaya. Great article. No religion should ever be used to persecute or hurt other people.


teaches12345 profile image

teaches12345 3 years ago

Thank you for the education on Hindu beliefs. It is all very interesting.


Vinaya Ghimire profile image

Vinaya Ghimire 3 years ago from Nepal Author

@Mary, my intention to publish an article on this issue is to present Hindu perspective, and not support or criticize homosexuality. Thanks for your comment.

@Toubusiness, I'm glad that you consider this article fascinating.Thanks

@Billy,thank you very much for your comment.

@Chef-de-jour, I agree we your point of view. I'm also against prosecution of homosexuals. Thanks for your feedback.

@Flourish Anyway, I'm standpoint on this matter is we are straight does not mean we have to criminalize the homosexual. Thanks for sharing your view.

@Suhail, that's a nice quote. Thank you very much for sharing.

@Prajwal, thanks for sharing your opinion.

@Mhatter, thanks

@DDE, thank you very much for your sharing your point of view.

@IslandBites, thanks for taking time to comment.

@fpherj48, thanks for appreciating my work. Cheers

@Faith, when I write, I try to avoid generalizations. Thanks for always appreciating my work

@Frank, you don't have to be sorry. There are many philosophical interpretations of deities and mythological events, however, my intention was just to homosexuality is Hindu perspective. Your interpretation of half man and half woman is compatible with Hindu world view. Cheers


Frank Atanacio profile image

Frank Atanacio 3 years ago from Shelton

Vin, im sorry about the comment I left it's just that sometimes the meanings you present may have a different meaning to the Westeners... Like the half man and woman I took it as if a man's not complete without a woman.. so homosexuality throws in that wrench.. I dunno.. but love the hub at any rate :)


Frank Atanacio profile image

Frank Atanacio 3 years ago from Shelton

Nepal, the country with world’s second largest Hindu population, officially recognizes the third gender. Nepali definition of third gender includes lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender. ( I think This is lost in translation Vin.. which cannot be translated in the West..yeah? )


Faith Reaper profile image

Faith Reaper 3 years ago from southern USA

Vinaya, as always, when you write it is always a comprehensive write on the subject, and this article is very thorough on Hinduism.

God bless, Faith Reaper


fpherj48 profile image

fpherj48 3 years ago from Beautiful Upstate New York

I appreciate your straightforwardness in explaining, what can sometimes be a delicate issue. Except for education, how can man make intelligent decisions and choices. Excellent job, Vinaya.......UP++


IslandBites profile image

IslandBites 3 years ago from Puerto Rico

Interesting info. Thanks!


DDE profile image

DDE 3 years ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

Hindu View on Homosexuality I for one as a Hindu don't bother about the homosexuality it is just how they chose to be. However, you have certainly got this act straight forwardly out, and very interesting indeed.


Mhatter99 profile image

Mhatter99 3 years ago from San Francisco

Thank you for this insight.


prajwalpokharel profile image

prajwalpokharel 3 years ago from kathmandu

The subject have long been disputed ... i don't promote it but am not also against it.... good to see writer from around....


Suhail and my dog profile image

Suhail and my dog 3 years ago from Mississauga, ON

I salute you Vinaya for writing on as sensitive a subject as this one.

My take on gays and straights is simple. Both of us are not going away on any other planet any soon so why not take a deep breath, relax, and wish each other the best of luck.

Also, I will like to quote my childhood hero, Cecil Chaudhry here:

“By faith I’m a Christian, but my religion is humanity”


FlourishAnyway profile image

FlourishAnyway 3 years ago from USA

Great hub, interesting topic which I enjoyed reading. I have never considered what Hindus specifically think of this subject. I am tolerant no matter people's orientation and don't like that people anywhere in the world might be persecuted for their orientation.


chef-de-jour profile image

chef-de-jour 3 years ago from Wakefield, West Yorkshire,UK

Homosexuality will become a major debating point in the future as 'east meets west' and religious elders face up to their consciences and history. Your hub is a part of the ongoing opening up of a taboo subject and for that I applaud your effort.

As we move into the 21st century I feel there is an opportunity for wise and reasoned debate on this topic. Sexuality in all its incredible forms is not going away so why not be transparent and open and get rid of the urban myths and prejudice!! No one should be persecuted for their sexuality.

I'm not gay in any way but as a compassionate human being seeing images of young men being hanged in Iran for example really makes my blood boil and my conscience is pained. Surely we can do better than that in our modern global world.


billybuc profile image

billybuc 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

Fascinating, Vinaya! I love to learn this stuff about other cultures, and you certainly did a great job of explaining it. Thank you so much.


tobusiness profile image

tobusiness 3 years ago from Bedfordshire, U.K

Vinaya, wow...fascinating as always. A great write with so many interesting and enlightening information into Hinduism. I really enjoyed reading this, well done. Up and sharing.


mary615 profile image

mary615 3 years ago from Florida

This subject is open to many interpretations, regardless of religions, I suppose. I am always interested in other religions and how they feel about different subjects such as this one.

Voted UP, and shared.

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